We need to stop misinformation. Here’s a start.
Information travels fast on social media, whether it’s true or not. When Captain Sully landed in the Hudson or when the Boston Marathon bomb went off, unvetted accounts spreading unverified information landed on our Facebook and Twitter feeds long before journalists had time to put pen to paper, clear the fact checkers and get it out into the ether.
The chaos of all this unvalidated information and the feeling of uncertainty and fear creates the perfect environment for anyone who wants to deliberately mislead. It comes as no surprise then, that 2020, a year of crises, has also been a year of massive amounts of misinformation (unintentional) and disinformation (intentional).
Climate deniers are expert disinformers
While it has skyrocketed as a national topic of discussion, misinformation did not start in 2020. It’s been around since the invention of storytelling. But there is a group of people, in recent decades, who have been honing their skills with the explicit purpose of making climate action harder than it should be: climate deniers.
This group of disinformers have been so successful that it’s hard to remember a time when climate action had bipartisan support. This quote from a 2019 Washington Post article is a painful reminder:
“In the early 1990s, polls showed that about 80 percent of Americans were aware of climate change and accepted that something must be done about it, an opinion that crossed party lines. By 2008, a Gallup poll found a marked partisan divide on climate change and, by 2010, the American public’s belief in climate change hit an all-time low of 48 percent despite the fact that those 20 years saw increased research, improved climate models and several climate change predictions coming true.”
EDF is ramping up efforts to combat misinformation
There is hope, though. Momentum to better address climate misinformation is building. Just in the last year, EDF and EDF Action joined a coalition of over 12 major environmental groups that is tracking and combating misinformation in various ways - the only coalition of its kind. We’ve also launched our Misinformation Brigade, a group of EDF Action members I’m teaching to identify and report misinformation on social networks. And we’re not stopping there. We’re looking into different tools and tactics to try to stop the spread of disinformation as well as highlighting credible sources that people can get their information.
We can no longer ignore the dangers of misinformation and how it spreads like wildfire. When science is brought into question, our work to stabilize the climate, protect human health and move our country forward is all put at risk.